Dubai, home to the world’s tallest building and biggest shopping mall, is wooing tourists with new flights and easier visa policies as it seeks to make up for a decline in visitors from Russia.
Russian tourists declined 23.5 percent last year as the value of the ruble plunged, and the drop continued in the first quarter this year, Helal Al Marri, director general of Dubai Tourism Commerce and Marketing told reporters at a conference Monday. Dubai is increasing its marketing spending in Russia because the nation’s woes will eventually fade, he said.
The promotion is part of Dubai’s effort to diversify its economy away from oil and into tourism, logistics and trade, and within tourism to attract travelers from more markets. Visitors to Dubai, which permitted visas on arrival to more European countries in March 2014, grew 8.2 percent to 13.2 million last year, according to a report by the DTCM, even as the euro’s slump made travel outside the euro region more expensive.
“The challenges in tourism are many and every year one market is affected,” Al Marri said. “This year it is the euro and the ruble. There was a big drop in visitors from Russia in 2014 and in 2015 we expect this to continue, especially in the first quarter.”
Russians account for 3 percent of Dubai tourist visits, Al Marri said. Dubai has seen growth in tourism from China, Africa, India and Europe, he said.
“We expect a very strong growth in 2015,” he said. “We will keep on track, and there will be no negative growth impact after the first quarter with the increase in flights, new routes and new visa policies.”
The emirate’s budget airline FlyDubai scaled back flights to Russia by 30 percent to 40 percent last year, but forecasts improvements this year, Chief Executive Ghaith Al-Ghaith said in an interview. The carrier last month announced it will begin direct flights to two new destinations in Russia, the cities of Novosibirsk and Nizhniy Novgorod.
“We’ve seen improvements and forecast a better season coming up,” he said, citing improvements in currency and demand as the airline operates on routes not served by others. FlyDubai also is benefiting as competitors scale back on common routes, he said.
“Strategically, Russia is a very important market,” Al-Ghait said. “It gave us lots of growth. We’ve scaled down but the commitment is there. We’re making it work because there’s less competition, there’s true demand for Dubai and our view is not for the next one or two months.”
Dubai, which is known for ultra-luxury hotels such as Burj Al Arab and Atlantis, the Palm, wants to increase the number of hotel rooms by 8 percent to 12 percent, Al Marri said. In 2014, it had 659 hotels and 93,000 rooms, according to DTCM data.